Clever Ways to Stem Learning Loss This Summer

Children who struggled to grasp facts or concepts during the school year may quickly lose this learning as soon as break begins. High-interest, project-based learning will help your student with ADHD avoid the summer slide and get back on track with reading, writing, math, and science. Here’s how.

Happy little Asian school kid studying science, making DIY Lava Lamp Science Experiment with oil, water and food coloring, Kid-friendly fun and easy science experiments at home concept
Happy little Asian school kid studying science, making DIY Lava Lamp Science Experiment with oil, water and food coloring, Kid-friendly fun and easy science experiments at home concept

Project-Based Learning Ideas to Prevent the Summer Slide

Summer should allow kids and parents to recharge, move, and smile a lot. But depending on how this school year went for your child — and how much learning loss occurred — a summer slide may seem inevitable. For many, interventions like private tutors, in-school support, and summer programs are not monetarily or logistically feasible. And most parents are not equipped to be academic intervention specialists.

To bolster specific areas and skills that need work, teachers have traditionally assigned homework packets to help students review during the summer. If your child has ADHD or learning differences, thick packets like these — online or on paper — aren’t likely to help, and will probably lead to yelling matches.

As an educational therapist, I’ve found that summer is an ideal time for students to engage in high-interest, project-based learning. Let me share some examples.

Reading with a Personal Twist

I once worked with a student with ADHD who hated reading but loved horror movies. For his summer read, he picked a comedy/horror novel that set the “Faustian bargain” story in a high school. I’d never seen this student so engaged in reading. We had conversations about characters and themes in a way that had been near-impossible. I’ve seen reluctant readers improve their fluency and comprehension over the summer with Pokémon books, the Diary of a Wimpy Kid series, and Stephen King novels.

Writing Projects to Spark Your Child’s Interest

Instead of assigning standard essays, how about encouraging your child to do a book review in a medium of her choice? She can make a video blog or a podcast or a slideshow. These days children are adept at using video and audio recording, whether on a laptop, tablet, or phone. She could also write fan fiction or adapt scenes from her book into a screenplay. It all depends on her talents and interests.

[Download: Your Free Guide to a Smarter Summer]

But what about writing? In my observations, reluctant writers often jump at the chance to write out scripts for themselves to deliver on video or audio. This doesn’t feel like schoolwork, and it works with their strengths. And it is really fun! If your child is into drawing, perhaps she can work on a graphic novel version of her book, summing up key scenes with short paragraphs and writing new dialogue for characters.

Math Tasks That Add Up for Students

There are many ways to get kids to learn and practice math skills. Speak with your children and brainstorm project ideas that correspond to the skills they need to practice.

How about a baking project to help a student explore fractions? He could compare different recipes for the same treat (chocolate chip cookies, anyone?). To make sure there’s enough for all family members, he can increase the ingredients by multiplying the fractions. He can figure out how many cookies to bake by dividing possible totals of cookies by the number of family members.

To practice area and perimeter, she can use graph paper to design her dream home, drawing each room on the paper to certain size specifications. If she’s a LEGO fanatic, she could use those for the same project. I once used players’ football stats to help a college freshman — a huge NFL fan — in his statistics course. Sports data could become a whole project for a student studying percentages, averages, and coordinate grids.

[Additional Reading: How to Balance Fun and Learning for Worn Out Kids]

You could challenge your child to develop a business plan based on her interest. Have her draw up a budget, determining the percentages to allocate to different materials and resources. She can figure out what to charge and calculate her potential monthly profits.

Science Projects: Turn Home into a Laboratory

Science, by definition, is all around us. It doesn’t matter what specific branch your child is learning — it’s all applicable to real-world projects.

For ecosystems, he could grow his own plants, start a compost, or identify the flora and fauna in the yard or neighborhood. To learn about evolution, he could do research on your household pet and figure out how Buddy evolved and came to be domesticated. Or he could design a pack of original animals who have evolved in interesting ways.

If she’s into sports, she could study the physiology of athletes and how they train their bodies to maximize performance. If she likes video games, she could analyze the physics of the characters and gameplay and determine how realistic a game is. For chemistry, there are all sorts of household experiments she can do. Anyone want to make ice cream or create a volcano?

Parents as Project Managers

We want our students to re-engage with learning after a tough, remote-schooling year. Project-based learning encourages students to explore concepts in a real-world setting, allowing them to problem-solve and give the content more meaning. Parents can work as “project managers” to help kids set goals, make schedules, and follow through on deadlines—building executive functioning skills, self-esteem, and self-discovery.

All right, what’s the first project on the summer slate?

Project-Based Learning This Summer: Next Steps

Ezra Werb, M.Ed., author of Teach for Attention! A Tool Belt of Strategies for Engaging Students with Attention Challenges (#CommissionsEarned), is an educational therapist working with students with attention deficit, learning challenges, and spectrum disorders.

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